Are we teaching our students that they always have to win an argument?

I love teaching and learning about rhetoric. The art of persuasion fits in right with the events of contemporary culture. It just makes sense to teach the skills to master the act of speech and argument  in addition to recognizing whether someone else’s argument is valid or not.  We teach our students in first year writing to write argumentative pieces, analyze the rhetorical situation, our students slowly learn to recognize what constitutes a good argument and can ultimately make one. They learn to voice their opinion only to realize that their arguments not only has to make sense to them but also, and maybe most importantly to their audience. Our students then learn to support their opinions with other credible sources in a way that will affect the audience by making them feel something or pushing their buttons to act upon their reception of this argument.

Our students benefit from such pedagogy because of the media age. defending oneself by understanding the rhetoric of media and being able to respond serves a great purpose. My question is raised because of a concern I think of when I teach students to become individuals with strong opinions they need to defend in the world. My concern is raised because everyone would be talking and no one would be listening. it seems that all our students, at least from the training they gat from our classes teach them to listen and use what is available to make their case better. Well, if everyone is doing that who will actually slow things down look at all the complexities of the issue and accept that someone s argument maybe right and that they do not have to win always.

Maybe in addition to teaching rhetoric, which I am not suggesting to change or by any means get rid of in first year writing, we could add pedagogies that teach our students to listen and accept people’s arguments. My next question is what are some activities or maybe ideas we can try to make sure our students are ready to speak up, analyze others’ arguments, and listen depending on the situation at hand. This I believe enriches our students knowledge and what we have to offer in class.

To sum up, I hope to discuss what others’ experiences are in regard to whether you feel that you are teaching your students to just win an argument.


2 thoughts on “Are we teaching our students that they always have to win an argument?

  1. The title poses an interesting question. My initial response is, yes, we want students to “win” provided winning means persuading others. Of course, this outcome depends on a narrow understanding of rhetoric, but the narrowness reflects frequent teaching of argument — in both senses that Fleming provides for arguments, ‘having’ and ‘making’.

    I am reminded of George Lakoff and his exploration of conceptual metaphors. Many of the metaphors offered in US writing and speaking samples have a basis in warfare (defend your position!), and many of the metaphors offered in Japanese samples have a basis in dance, which is really neat.


  2. Ibtissem, I think you would value and appreciate Krista Ratcliffe’s book on Rhetorical Listening. To be fully rhetorical, one needs not only to speak but to listen, and the listening and understanding is part of the rhetorical toolkit. Also, see Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric of Silence.


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